In This Review

External Mission: The ANC in Exile, 1960-1990
External Mission: The ANC in Exile, 1960-1990
By Stephen Ellis
Hurst, 2012, 320 pp

The remarkably prolific Ellis has written a fascinating history of the internal politics of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 30 years during which it was banned in South Africa and was forced to operate from bases outside the country. Ellis’ research suggests that the South African Communist Party enjoyed a higher degree of influence on the ANC's decision-making than has been acknowledged by the ANC's leadership. The link between the two organizations was inconvenient to ANC leaders, who denied it, not only because it risked undermining support in the West for the struggle against apartheid but also because they feared that the mostly white leadership of the Communist Party would weaken the ANC's nationalist and anticolonial credentials among black Africans. The book also describes intense factional disputes within the exiled leadership, the tendency toward secrecy and fragmentation that the pressures of the struggle imposed and distance reinforced, and the corruption and repressive practices that inevitably resulted. Ellis recognizes that the ANC forged itself into an effective organization over time but insists that many of the flaws that have emerged since it came to power are the results of characteristics that were deeply ingrained during its period of exile.